When it comes to producing beautiful things, Mother Nature is a creative genius. No wonder so many decorators steal her looks —or at least, borrow her castoffs. But you don’t need a design degree or an HGTV show to play around with foraged décor. From dried leaves to beautiful rocks, plenty of nature's beauty can double as gorgeous design.
However, decorating from the wild comes with special considerations. Floral designer Beth Elliott, co-owner of Hali’iMaile Filling Station in Maui, offers these tips before you get started:
Ask the Plant for Permission
As funny as it sounds, always connect with the plant before clipping. Listen to your intuition and never take too much— you want to leave some to continue to grow and for the next person to enjoy.
Protect Your Body
Wear gloves and long pants —poison ivy loves snuggling up to flowering branches. Many other plants irritate the skin, such as silky oak; plumeria sap can be very harmful to eyes and plenty of people are allergic to certain grasses (cue the sneezing attack). And watch out for the microscope needles on species such as cactus fruit.
Stay off private property and be aware of any laws prohibiting the removal of indigenous matter. Also, be aware of the unwritten laws of a place— for example, in Hawaii, relocating stones is frowned upon. The fear of Pele’s Curse prompts tourists to mail back lava rocks, stones and sand they’ve taken from the islands.
De-Bug Your Finds
Debugging your plants is essentially to a happy bouquet. Give plant material a shake before putting it in your car or bag. Once home, hose or rinse everything in cold water to avoid bringing bird mites, spider bites and more to your house.
Beware Poisonous Plants
Yes, floral foraging can be dangerous. Oleander, also known as laurel of flower, is a deadly shrub plant of Mediterranean origin and therefore, resistant to droughts. Its leaves, flowers, stems, branches and seeds are all highly poisonous. Before you go foraging, make sure you know what not to touch.
Below, easy ways to add an organic element to your space.
Bring in Branches With Dried Leaves
Pittsburgh-based designer Leanne Ford is the queen of perfectly imperfect interiors— and often that means hauling the outdoors in. She’s been known to drag a fallen tree branch into the house and prop it up against a wall or use it to disguise and exposed-pipe eyesore. A simpler way to go: Stuff a few leafy branches into a basket — if some leaves scatter around the floor, all the better.
Try a Tree-Stump Side Table
Petrified stumps are expensive antiques, often costing in the thousands. Find a younger version and get to work drying, debarking and sanding. You can decide how far you want to take the refurbishing —from a natural “raw” finish to an epoxied super-gloss.
Bronze Fronds and Ferns
Green plant life that’s begun to turn golden and amber with the evolving seasons make for beautiful arrangements, as evidenced by global florist Philippa Craddock’s majestic display. There is a fleeting point between the plant’s peak and when it returns to the forest floor to decompose that is beautiful and worth capturing.
Create Seashell Salt and Pepper Cellars
Beach foraging is the best. Once slippery crustaceans have vacated their homes, the shells can be vessels for salt and pepper. (Oyster and clam shells work well.) Simply wash and dry them, then add a coat of food-grade organic beeswax or shellac to the inside before filling with salt and pepper. Cute touch: a tiny bamboo spoon.
Add Blooming Branches
Some people carry jumper cables in their cars, no doubt lifestyle expert Athena Calderone of EyeSwoon travels with a pair of branch clippers. You never know when you might need to pull over to the side of the road to snip some quince, forsythia, cherry blossoms —or, in colder climates, holly and other berry-strewn branches. A sculptural single branch can make a beautiful, minimalist statement.
Rethink Rock Collections
Over time, nature smooths rocks, sometimes carving them into hearts and other enchanting shapes. When carefully selected, stones make for pretty tabletop objet d'art— or more practically, an organic paperweight for your home office.
Create Feather Bouquets
Bird nerds, take note: It pays to keep your eyes peeled for brightly colored or patterned feathers when out in nature. Once you’ve gathered a handful, throw them in a silver cup or glass jar; they’re perfect on a desk as a nod to old-timey writing quills. Word of caution: There are some rules around the kinds of feathers you are allowed to collect, even when they are on the ground, so be sure to do your research ahead of time.
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Lovett, Ian. "Curses! Hawaii Can't Get Tourists to Stop Sending Back Lava." Wall Street Journal. May 14, 2017.
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